Edmonton Catholic Schools says draft curriculum not ready for classrooms

Edmonton Catholic Schools won’t pilot test a new elementary school curriculum next year, the division’s superintendent says.

50 of 61 school boards now refusing to test draft curriculum next year

A bunch of markers stacked in a cup in an empty classroom.
Edmonton Catholic elementary students won't be pilot testing a new draft curriculum next year, that division has decided. (Jane Robertson/CBC)

Edmonton Catholic Schools won't pilot test a new elementary school curriculum next year, the division's superintendent says.

The province's fourth-largest school division is the 50th school board of 61 that use the Alberta curriculum to reject the call to test the new program of studies.

Edmonton Catholic spent weeks gathering feedback about the proposed curriculum drafts from more than 1,000 teachers, administrators and experts working for the division, superintendent Robert Martin told trustees at a special board meeting Monday.

"We believe that the conditions have not been met for a quality piloting process," Martin said.

After saying the proposed new K-4 curriculum written while the NDP were in government was full of socialist ideology, the United Conservative Party pledged to pause and review the work done thus far.

In March, Education Minister Adriana LaGrange publicly released revamped draft curriculum in all subjects for kindergarten to Grade 6.

Criticism has come from curriculum experts, Indigenous leaders, francophones and parents who say the proposals are Eurocentric, age inappropriate, include too much content, discourage deep thinking and have little basis in research.

A 173-page report of observations and recommendations for improvement prepared by Edmonton Catholic Schools shares many of these concerns. The feedback came from 17 focus groups of teachers and administrators who dug into specific subjects or grades in their spare time.

Several trustees said members of the public contacted them with concerns.

Curriculum and schools aren't ready, trustees say

Trustee Lisa Turchansky said Alberta Education should invite teachers and school boards back to the curriculum writing table for a "fulsome review" rather than piloting the material.

"This way, the implementation can go forward in 2022 instead of during these crazy times," she said, referring to the pandemic. "These poor kids and teachers are having a hard enough time keeping their head above water, I can't imagine adding in a pilot."

Trustee Carla Smiley said the material isn't ready for students and schools reeling from a pandemic aren't ready to test out something new.

Trustee Alene Mutala said she hopes the government takes the division's suggestion seriously, as some of the content is too advanced for young children.

Nicole Lafreniere, director of curriculum and professional learning for the division, said teachers who reviewed the drafts were troubled by the age appropriateness of some of the concepts. She said the sheer number of concepts children were expected to learn would lead to rote memorization, not understanding.

She pointed to a lack of diversity and difficulty including students with disabilities.

Although the government wants Alberta to have a curriculum that focuses on children acquiring a lot of knowledge before they can analyze it, Lafreniere said that approach is problematic.

"We want them doing things, not just learning about things."

Nicole Sparrow, LaGrange's press secretary, said in an email pilot testing is one of several ways the government is seeking feedback on curriculum. The government will also host formal engagement sessions with parents and educators.

She said the government welcomes all feedback and is pleased people are reviewing and discussing the proposals.

Edmonton Public Schools, Calgary Board of Education and Calgary Catholic Schools are among the 50 school boards that are declining to test the curriculum in classrooms next year. Boards that are saying no represent nearly 92 per cent of students enrolled in Alberta's public schools.

The minister had hoped that up to 10 per cent of students would participate in the pilot.

Fort Vermilion Public Schools in northern Alberta has said it will test language arts, math and wellness. Cardston-based Westwind School Division will allow teachers to pilot some material if they wish.

The ministry wants all boards to decide by mid-May.


Janet French

Provincial affairs reporter

Janet French covers the Alberta Legislature for CBC Edmonton. She previously spent 15 years working at newspapers, including the Edmonton Journal and Saskatoon StarPhoenix. You can reach her at janet.french@cbc.ca.